Katherine Boehret

In Tablets, Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better

People who find Apple’s iPad too big may prefer using a more compact tablet, like Amazon’s Kindle Fire. But one company seems to think the iPad isn’t big enough.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been testing the Toshiba Excite 13, a tablet with a screen that measures 13.3 inches diagonally. Compared with the iPad’s 9.7-inch screen and the Kindle Fire’s 7-inch screen, this thing is a beast. At 2.2 pounds, it is about 2½ times the weight of the Kindle Fire and 1½ times that of the iPad. Though it’s too big to be practical for most people, it has some endearing attributes that will be appreciated.

Like hefty desktop-replacement laptops that are rarely taken on the go, Toshiba designed the Excite 13 to be used primarily in the home (many people already leave their iPads on kitchen counters and coffee tables). It comes with an elegant stand, which props the tablet into horizontal and vertical positions for typing and viewing, respectively.

The Excite 13 runs on WiFi (not cellular) and uses Google’s latest Android operating system, called Ice Cream Sandwich. When it becomes available in late July, it will cost $650 for 32 gigabytes or $750 for 64 gigabytes, which is $50 more than Apple’s comparable iPads.


Growth Spurt: The Toshiba Excite 13 screen measures 13.3 inches diagonally, compared with 9.7 inches for the iPad and 7 inches for the Kindle Fire.

The Toshiba Excite 13’s widescreen display makes movie-watching a delightful experience; I easily shared the screen with my husband as we watched “Toy Story 3.” Its surface could work well for playing group games with friends if you set it on a table. And reading e-books in horizontal mode is like the digital equivalent of enjoying a large, hardcover book where nothing is squeezed for space.

Yet, there is just no getting over the fact that the Excite is awkward to hold. Its dimensions give it one extra-long side, forming an exaggerated rectangle that feels off balance in the hands. Unlike big computer screens on which you can open two windows side by side to make the most of screen real estate, only one opened app appears on screen at a time. These apps appear awkwardly stretched, with lots of wasted white space on the screen; in vertical mode, I felt like I was holding a long scroll. Even this tablet’s giant, on-screen keyboard was too sprawled to be functional for me, as a touch typist. I had to resort to the hunt-and-peck method to avoid mistakes.

Under the hood, the Excite 13 uses Nvidia’s latest mobile processor, so apps opened quickly, games were responsive and videos played without stuttering. But there was a noticeable lag time as the screen righted itself each time I turned the tablet between horizontal and vertical mode.

The overall build of the Excite 13 is relatively thin, considering how big it is. It is just 0.39-inch thick, compared with 0.37-inch for Apple’s iPad. A stylish champagne-tinted, aluminum panel covers the tablet’s back, and one of its edge’s houses three built-in ports: a micro-USB, a micro HDMI and an SD card slot.

This tablet has a high-definition, two-megapixel front-facing camera for video chats. The back camera is a five-megapixel with autofocus and has a flash and the ability to capture video in the high-quality, 1080p standard.

But if you feel foolish holding up an iPad to take photos, holding up the Excite 13 to line up shots will be even more humiliating. In the name of testing, I took photos, which were fine, though nothing spectacular. Since it is hard to hold the unwieldy Excite 13 with just one hand, I struggled to tap the screen to adjust photo settings.

In my demanding battery test, which involves setting the screen at 75% brightness with WiFi on, an email program running in the background and a continuous loop of video playing until the battery dies, I got about nine hours. That was better than most Android tablets I’ve tested, but still less than the latest iPad’s 10-hour result using the same test. Toshiba says the Excite 13 will get 13 hours of battery life.

I mostly kept the Excite 13 in its stand on my kitchen counter and used it for checking email, playing games as I ate breakfast, checking social networks and browsing the Web. Its speakers sounded good when I played music or movies. But when I had to take it with me on a business trip for testing, the idea of pulling this giant tablet out in the middle seat of a plane felt like I’d be doing a show-and-tell for my seatmates. So I opted for the iPad.

Toshiba has never installed much additional software in its Android tablets, and the same is true for the Excite 13. Still, I was surprised not to find any preloaded apps or programs designed to demonstrate the advantages of this tablet’s large screen.

It’s hard not to be intrigued by the Toshiba Excite 13 because it is such a whopper of a tablet. Entertainment apps sing on its ample screen. But for most other things and for everyday mobility, the size of the iPad is more productive and comfortable to use.

Write to Katherine Boehret at katie.boehret@wsj.com.

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